You missed our anniversary this year. As of January 12th Patrick and I have been legally married in the state of Washington for two years.
Don’t worry, I’m not mad. Patrick and I didn’t remember it either. In fact, I had to go back and double-check the date just to make sure. This year the 12th was on a Monday, and I was home from work taking care of Jordan, who was home sick from school. That Sunday, he complained of a headache and queasy stomach while we were out on an afternoon walk with friends. Isabella and Patrick went to a school event that evening, and I stayed home to nurse Jordan and prepare lesson plans for my substitute teacher.
It was a perfectly mundane, perfectly normal, absolutely lovely day. I am, after all, living my dream.
Growing up, I just wanted what you and dad had: a big house, a couple of kids, and the prospect of growing old with the love of my life. I watched this happen for Mark, my cousins, our neighbors, and my best friends, and I could not wait until it happened for me. Then I came to terms with my sexuality, and my dream, I thought, was gone.
In 1993, when I came out of the closet, I knew exactly zero same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships. When Patrick and I started dating a few years later, we were certain marriage equality would never happen in our lifetime. In its absence, following the lead of other same-sex couples, we created our own ritual. On that beautiful Seattle summer day in 2001, we pledged our commitment to one another in front of you and dad, Patrick’s mom, and a large assembly of extended family and friends. That was our wedding day. That is the date we expect (and always receive) our anniversary card
I know you remember that at the time we used the term commitment ceremony because way back in the summer of 2001, same-sex marriage was definitely a term that dared not speak its name. The issue had yet to become a part of the national consciousness. Karl Rove was only dreaming about how he would someday use the issue for political purposes. The straight world was mostly unaware. Some of Patrick’s relatives from Long Island were astounded when we told them we couldn’t get legally married. “Even in Manhattan?” they asked.
For Patrick and me, calling it a commitment ceremony was a political act. We refrained from calling it a wedding on the invitation or when we talked about our plans. I imagined our guests thinking to themselves: “I can’t believe it. I mean it looks like a wedding. It seems like a wedding. It must be…wait, it’s that whole separate and not at all equal thing. That sucks!”
You and dad sympathized, to a point. You listened patiently as we tried to explain how it was but at the same time wasn’t a wedding, and how that was really important to us. And then you gently moved us on to more pressing questions: Where did we want to register? Had we found a hotel that could accommodate friends and family from Buffalo? Would there be a full bar or just wine and beer at the reception?
I’m sure our guests didn’t really think too deeply about our subtle political statement. They just wanted to support us and have a good time, as we pledged, kissed, and danced. It was a great, er, wedding.
We had our Hawaiian honeymoon, wrote the thank you notes, created a photo album and went on with our lives. We bought a house, switched jobs, traveled a bit, and adopted two kids. Our day-in, day-out (gay) marriage does not vastly differ from the other marriages I see around me, regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple.
Patrick and I laugh, see movies, fight, worry about money, laugh (and fight) about money, drink a glass of wine (or two), and struggle to get enough sleep, all the while trying to raise happy, healthy kids. It’s just one marriage, in all its fantastic, mundane, chaotic glory.
Marriage. There’s that term again. Having a commitment ceremony was nice and all (and don’t get me wrong, we will always consider that our real wedding), but the ability to be legally married remained important. A marriage certificate confers rights and benefits that many straight people take for granted, like the ability to file joint federal income tax returns, and the option for spouses to receive Social Security, Medicare, public assistance and disability benefits.
But the term married goes beyond mere legal rights, and bestows status and privilege as well. It is a term that communicates a rich and evolving cultural history; it acts as shorthand, and yet is as unique and mysterious as every couple who is able to claim it. Any adult human being who loves another adult human being must be allowed to be a part of this club.
Many committed same-sex couples have spent years chasing down legal marriage rights around the country as awareness, and laws, slowly began to change. Our friends Erin and Siobhan went to Vancouver, BC to get legally married there. Another couple we know drove with friends to Portland when same sex marriage was briefly legal in Oregon, and fairly quickly got a letter revoking the marriage certificate when a law was passed making it illegal.
In October of 2008, Patrick and I went on our own chase. With you and dad here watching the kids, we slipped away to the Bay Area and got legally married in the Alameda courthouse during that short window of time California was dabbling in the same-sex marriage business. Aside from just needing a break (and what better place than California wine country?) we had some very practical reasons for wanting a California marriage license. New York State at that point had agreed to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples from other states, and as frequent travelers to visit family and friends, we thought that having some legal protection might be beneficial.
What if one of us ended up sick and in the hospital while we were on the East Coast? What if our kids ended up there and we needed to make decisions about their care together? What if…who knows? It seemed worthwhile to gain as many legal protections as we could.
Isabella, who was only 7 years old at the time, was mystified. “I thought you already were married?” she said. We tried to explain that yes, in our hearts and in the eyes of our friends and family we were married, but not legally, not according to the State. “What’s a state?” was her reply.
When the marriage equality law was signed here in Washington in the spring of 2012, our friend Michelle wrote to offer her congratulations. “Will you and Patrick have to make decisions about all the floof, or just elope?” she wanted to know. We already had floof, I explained. We had our gay wedding. And yet, we did have a desire to celebrate the new victory. The significance of a marriage certificate with both our names on it, stamped by the state of Washington, would be something to hold precious for a lifetime, tangible proof of our membership to the club.
We could have decided to do nothing at all about the granting of marriage rights, which would have been just fine. Under the provisions of the law, same-sex couples registered as domestic partners would have those partnerships automatically converted to marriage after a certain amount of time. A certificate, or more likely a form letter, would arrive in the mail. Very official. Very low-key
Instead, we decided to celebrate, with some gentle nudging from our friends and co-hosts Lisa and Jeanne. A community center donated space, and we asked folks to bring food to share and to pay for their own drinks. Some folks dressed to the nines, and others came as they were. In a quiet upstairs room, several officiants were on hand so that couples could get married. Patrick and I reaffirmed our vows in the company of our kids, a few friends, and Patrina, Patrick’s sister, the only family member in attendance (who happened to be in Seattle that week for the wedding of a friend). She signed the legal paperwork as our witness, and we were done. Later there was cake and dancing with our kids. We all toasted our happiness and cheered “Love Wins!”
But just as our commitment ceremony came with its linguistic challenges, we were nervous that some of our friends might be confused. Would they channel Isabella and think “Didn’t they already get married? Or did they not consider yourself married until now?” We knew that family members were even getting a bit tired of our matrimonial frenzy. “You’re getting married…again?” Mark asked dryly. “Maybe the third time will be the charm.”
What rang most true for both of us was not that the event had many of the trappings of a wedding. What we treasured was the opportunity to recognize the importance of the term marriage and cheer with all our friends who were happy for us, happy for our community, thrilled to live in a historic state at a historic time. By approving Referendum 74, we built a state where our children were closer to living in fairness and equality. The victory meant that all citizens—gay, straight and in-between—could witness and support the loving commitments between their friends, neighbors, and relatives.
The state of Washington, like many other states that have followed (36 at this moment, plus the District of Columbia), has left our children, grandchildren, and generations to come a remarkable, lasting legacy: the ability to live your dream, love who you love, and perhaps someday make a vow.
There will be no more papers to sign; we are married, both in our hearts and in the eyes of the state. However, we will celebrate one more time when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns all state laws that limit marriage to one man and one woman, and allow consenting adults to marry regardless of their gender. The court’s decisions in 2013 were a start, but they did not go far enough. I hope that this June, the Supremes will do the right thing, just as they did in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling ending race-based marriage discrimination.
It is time for all Americans to have the same opportunity; every adult, regardless of where he or she may live, and regardless of his or her sexual orientation, deserves the chance to see their dream come true.
4 thoughts on “Our Journey to Married”
Happy (belated and forgotten in our house too) Anniversary! Beautifully written and lovely as always. Yes, you know I am crying. So happy to have shared in one of the wedding experiences.
Fantastic missive Christopher. Gary Nowak
Chris, your words give me hope for my own son. I hope his life is as richly blessed as yours has been. I, too, anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision. Everyone should have the right to marry the one the love.
Bravo and the whole world appreciates your courage and commitment to family and education . . . .happy anniversaries!!